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Expectation vs Reality of LEO Career

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  • Expectation vs Reality of LEO Career

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    As someone who enlisted in the Marine Corps when I was young and naieve, there was a gaping chasm between my expectation of what military life would be like (recruiting posters and commercials) and the reality of day-to-day life. I don't do "Marine Corps things;" for the most part, I'm a computer tech in uniform. As I separate from the Marine Corps, I'm interested in becoming an LEO.

    As television shows and detective novels are my only vantage point into a law enforcement career, perhaps some of you veterans could shed some light on the realities of your job. I hear horror stories of stress (both personal and family), overtime, and office politics. These things don't worry me. I'd like to eventually become a Detective.

    I know the situation is different at each department, but what does a Detective do on a daily basis? How often do you make arrests? Interview suspects? I'm trying to avoid maintaining a romanticized view of being a police officer, as I held Marines. I know there is more paperwork than pop culture depicts. I don't want a desk job; I want to hit the streets, interview people, be lied to, engage in foot chases, and all the other things for which I'm sure you all love your job. Is this an accurate overall picture of what the "average" LEO does for a living?

    Any insight you have would be greatly appreciated. Also, if you would kindly include your years of experience as an LEO, that would be teriffic. If you feel uncomfortable posting your thoughts publicly, feel free to PM me. Thank you for your time.

  • #2
    The biggest difference between TV and reality to me has been; On the streets you do not follow through with a case. You do the original report and send it up, someone else follows through. On the streets you do get lied to, get in foot chases, and get good arrests. Investigators do a lot of paperwork, interviews, and follow-ups to get charges filed. Sometimes they go out and arrest after warrant is issued, but normally that goes back to patrol.

    I work in a big department. To do it all you may want to work a smaller one where it is necessary to do it all.

    Vice and narcotics (and homicide - if it is an actual murder case where they make the scene) are probably the only ones that take a case from beginning to end.
    Originally posted by ISPY4U2
    Tex, if I'm ever in the Lone Star state, which is unlikely unless I'm being held prisoner against my will by separatist extremists, remind me to buy you a beer. You make more sense every post.

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    • #3
      There are both ups and downs to the job, just like any other, but in my opinion the positive definitely outweighs the negative.

      First let me say, a lot of what you do will depend on where you work, not only geographical, but what department. If you work for a slow, small agency, you will experience a lot different aspects of the job than you would if you were with a busier, larger agency.

      My typical shift includes patrol, doing some traffic stops, maybe get a warrant or a drug arrest, respond to a few calls for service -- burglaries, robberies, domestics, etc. Maybe catch some of the offenders, get in a foot chase, it all depends. Then you have to type up a few reports for the things you've done. In reality, everyone hates writing reports, but it only takes 15 minutes once you know what you're doing, unless it is a more complex report.

      As far as a detective. There is a lot of desk work involved, but there is also a lot of on the street investigating, interviewing, and eventually arresting.

      This is a little broad, but I hope it helps a little.

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      • #4
        Large agency here... day to day calls are traffic accidents, civil matters, burglary/stolen vehicle reports, trespassers, incorrigible juveniles, shoplifters, drunks, homeless panhandlers.

        When a cluster comes along like a shooting/stabbing/chop shop/illegal alien drop house, etc. then detectives are called out once a perimeter and a crime scene has been set up, and all the players detained in the back of patrol cars.

        Detectives usually get 'called out' and they'll take over complex investigations that require search warrants or lengthy interviews, gun shot residue testing, etc. etc.

        Super-broad as well, and obviously detectives work in different bureaus or areas of specialty.

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        • #5
          I work for a small agency. Unlike my brothers and sisters in large departments, patrol tries to work a case as far as they (preferable to completion) can before kicking it over to a detective around here. My agency has only one detective and he's already buried in long-term cases and paperwork. It would be a pretty rare occurance for our detective to get into foot chases and the other exciting things you see on shows like COPS...he does alot of interviews, followups, and paperwork.

          In regards to LE in general, what you see on police reality shows is accurate, but it's nothing but a fraction of what a real LEO does. Remember, they show only what's "good television," which usually means action, comedy, or drama. We get to deal with plenty of that stuff, too, but there's alot of very mundane and even boring things that make up the majority of law enforcement. For every COPS foot chase, there are countless reports to be taken for minor thefts. For every First 48 interview, there are countless knock-and-talks for barking dog complaint. The other thing the TV shows never show is the paperwork. For pretty much everything you do in LE, there is a report to be made...generally, the more exciting, the longer and more detailed the report.

          You also mentioned famliy matters and LE. The realities of law enforcement are that you will work shifts with bad hours, you will work weekends, you will work holidays, you will miss anniversaries, birthdays, little league games, and music recitals. Law enforcement is a 24/7/365 job and the low man on the totem pole tends to get the worst of a bad lot.
          Last edited by Bing_Oh; 01-28-2009, 01:31 PM.
          "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
          -Friedrich Nietzsche

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          • #6
            I'd like to eventually become a Detective.

            I know the situation is different at each department, but what does a Detective do on a daily basis? How often do you make arrests? Interview suspects? I'm trying to avoid maintaining a romanticized view of being a police officer, as I held Marines. I know there is more paperwork than pop culture depicts. I don't want a desk job; I want to hit the streets, interview people, be lied to, engage in foot chases, and all the other things for which I'm sure you all love your job. Is this an accurate overall picture of what the "average" LEO does for a living?
            Expectation - To be a detective...
            Reality - May never happen. Just the reality of the job depending on where you go. You may want to consider a federal investigative job.

            Expectation - Being a detective, and doing 'street cop' things like chasing bad guys, and making arrests.
            Reality - That is very often the exact opposite of what detectives do. Again it depend entirely on where you work, but with the majority of policing in the US (geographically), which is done by smaller agencies, detective spots are very indoor/desk oriented. There are plain clothes/detective positions that are street oriented, but they are more often found in larger urban, or metro type agencies.

            You have to carefully select where you take a job. If you want to be an investigator, you should look at the feds, state and county prosecutors offices, or larger PD/SD's where there is a strong chance of getting that spot. If you want to do street cop stuff, you may have to give up the whole detective thing, again, depending on where you work.

            In regards to LE in general, what you see on police reality shows is accurate, but it's nothing but a fraction of what a real LEO does. Remember, they show only what's "good television," which usually means action, comedy, or drama. We get to deal with plenty of that stuff, too, but there's alot of very mundane and even boring things that make up the majority of law enforcement. For every COPS foot chase, there are countless reports to be taken for minor thefts. For every First 48 interview, there are countless knock-and-talks for barking dog complaint. The other thing the TV shows never show is the paperwork. For pretty much everything you do in LE, there is a report to be made...generally, the more exciting, the longer and more detailed the report.

            You also mentioned famliy matters and LE. The realities of law enforcement are that you will work shifts with bad hours, you will work weekends, you will work holidays, you will miss anniversaries, birthdays, little league games, and music recitals. Law enforcement is a 24/7/365 job and the low man on the totem pole tends to get the worst of a bad lot.
            100% TRUE.

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